3.20 Bathroom Humor

I had to make a very important decision a few weekends ago. On a long car trip, I drank too much coffee and too much water. For the first few hours, there was little traffic and I flew down the highway, driving faster than ever before and not quite realizing I should be taking advantage of the rest stops along the way. The rest stops just always seemed to be at inappropriate times when my driving groove was going good. I did not need to rest and I did not need to stop. All that coffee caught up with me.

When approaching the city, the traffic started getting heavier, the lanes backing up with all signs pointing to a blockage, construction or maybe an accident. Naturally, that’s when my bladder came alive, screaming at me that it was almost full to capacity and needed to be drained. There was no way out and there were no rest stops in sight.

I did have an empty water bottle.

Let me just say this: I did not pee into the water bottle while sitting in traffic. I wouldn’t be able to bring myself to do it. I’ve seen people with a newspaper sprawled out across the steering wheel and women curling eyelashes in the rearview mirror, but I’ve never witnessed anyone peeing into a bottle. I hope I never do. I used to pride myself on going long stretches without having to use a washroom, but as I get older, one of the first things I do in a new area is to scout where the washrooms are located.

A few years ago, I traveled to New Zealand. Now, that’s a long flight – a bit different than my five-hour drive. I was lucky enough to score a business class seat from Los Angeles to New Zealand, a good thing, but with this came lots of free champagne. It was a window seat and a large man arrived beside me right before takeoff. As soon as we were airborne, the man kicked his feet up, tilted his seat back, put on a facemask and was lightly snoring for the remainder of the trip. Somewhere over the Pacific Ocean, I realized I drank too much free champagne across too many time zones. But there was no way out, the man blocked the aisle.

At first, I tried to make some noise in an effort to wake him, but nothing roused this guy – he must have been knee deep in some hardcore REMing. I considered crawling under his legs, but there wasn’t enough room. So, I did what any logical person would do in such a dire situation. I stood up, put one hand on the armrest between us, steadied myself, reached over his tummy with my other arm and slowly stepped over him. When we came face to face, he snorted and his snoring stopped. I stopped as well. If he had woken up at this time, he would have found his seatmate straddling him. I froze until his snoring started up again and then hopped over into the aisle. If you’re in a situation when you really have to go to the washroom, you are so fixated on making it there with no accidents that your mind doesn’t see past the toilet and you don’t contemplate, for example, how you will get back to your seat after you’re finished. That's a whole other story.

Fast forward to Beijing. I set out one morning to the train station where I would be traveling to the small town of Taishan. I should take a moment and describe some of the bathrooms available in my travels. Yes, there were many places that had normal facilities, but also, many public washrooms were outfitted with the ‘hole in the floor’. Literally, a hole in the floor that had two padded footprints, in the event you forgot where to stand while doing your business. I honestly don’t regard myself as a fussy traveler, but I could never bring myself to squat.

The train was about to board when I got hit by a wave of ‘need to use a washroom now’. In the public washroom, I was confronted with the hole and had to pass. Not only would I have to squat, but there were no doors on the stalls. Again, I don’t regard myself as finicky, but I do believe doors are a necessity. I boarded the train, found my seat, and for lack of a better descriptor, I held it in.

Once I was settled, I surveyed the rest of the car for a washroom. I found it all right – with my nose first. At the end of the car, there was a room – a man was smoking in the room, which seemed counter-intuitive – that was all white and had the hole in the centre. Upon opening the door, a wave of cigarette smoke and washroom stink almost made me pass out. I couldn’t do the hole, and what’s more, the smoking man stared at me, which made me think he would continue staring as I squatted.

This was an overnight train, and once the sun set, we pulled down makeshift cots attached to the walls of the cabin. I crawled on to mine, waves of extreme pain overcame me every few minutes. This could not be healthy. Only fifteen more hours to go.

When I arrived at my destination, I jumped off the still-moving train and high tailed it down the platform. Tried to get a taxi, but none would take me. I learned later that day upon walking around the town that the hotel was about five minutes away. A reluctant driver finally took pity on me as I hopped from one foot to the other. He drove me outside of the city to a different hotel than where I was staying. A member of the hotel staff talked a blue streak, and I roughly translated his words as, “Hey, you’re here already, why not stay?” After ten minutes and three other staff members joining us, I finally got back into the taxi and sat with my arms crossed like a spoiled child. The driver sighed and brought me to the right hotel.

Express check in. Threw my bags on the bed and found the washroom. A porcelain throne. I didn’t notice at first that there was no tub. The showerhead hung from the ceiling in the middle of the room. After finishing my business, I accidently hit the faucet and the cold water of the shower sprung to life. It didn’t matter, nothing mattered, for there was no squatting and no hole. I might have been soaking wet, but I was a happy man.

A weekend much closer to home prepared me for these trips. The destination was my friend’s family cottage for a few days many years ago. His parents were strict environmentalists before it was trendy and the cottage was completely off the grid. I went into the washroom, which on first glance seemed to be quite normal. I opened the toilet lid and the bowl was filled with dirt. It was a composting toilet. You did your business and then twisted a plastic knob attached to a fan-like instrument that tilled the dirt. I tested out the knob and tiny worms woke up, as well as small mountainous leftovers from previous users. I could not work myself up to a number two for the entire weekend. I held it, which in hindsight was good practice for the future. I want to protect the environment just as much as the next guy, but we all have our limits.